Following the release of Street Fighter II, my brother and I were obsessed. We’d spend hours at the arcade, plunking down quarters. When we got the home version on the Super NES, we spent nearly every day locked in battle from the time we woke up to the time we went to bed. Being a big fan of the genre, I’ve played countless fighters since that time; none of them have recaptured that feeling. Enter Street Fighter IV. Capcom’s newest iteration in the franchise stands as the best fighter I’ve played in a decade, and whether you’re an old pro or a newcomer, you’ll find a lot to love in this game.
SFIV takes place between SFII and III, and features the return of all 12 original characters from SFII: Championship addition. The game also features 8 unlockable characters, ranging from old favorites (like Cammy and Fei Long) to brand new (like Ryu and Ken’s master Gouken). Rounding out the roster are four new characters: El Fuerte, Abel, C. Viper, and Rufus.
First things first, SFIV is gorgeous. The game looks like a painting in motion, and the animation is incredibly fluid. The 3D character models are mostly phenomenally done, and the backgrounds you’ll fight on are detailed and varied. In addition to the great character models, you’ll find some awesome facial expressions on the characters as they do battle. Ranging from the cocky, to the obviously pained, to my personal favorite, the “Holy crap you’re about to launch an Ultra combo”. I cannot emphasize enough how much these details add to the character of the game, and from a purely artistic standpoint SFIV is the best looking fighter I’ve ever played.
Of course the only thing that really matters in a fighter is how it plays. I’m pleased to report that SFIV handles like a dream. The game is intuitive enough for newcomers to the series to be able to enjoy, while at the same time containing enough depth for even the most savvy tournament level player. Each character plays like a dream, and the balance in the game is nearly pitch perfect. Controls are very responsive, and more lenient in terms of move timing than previous games in the series.
The gameplay is really a great mix of old and new school mechanics. All your favorite special moves from SFII return, so fans of the series should feel instantly comfortable with their favorite characters. EX moves also return, allowing your character to add a little extra “oomph” to their specials by pressing two attack buttons instead of one. EX moves eat up your Super Combo meter, which is charged by your offensive attacks. A full special bar enables your Super Combo, which unleashes a very powerful combo attack.
The second meter on your screen is called the Revenge meter. This fills as your character takes damage, and functions as a great balance to the offensively centered Super meter. Once your revenge meter is full, you’ll be able to unleash a devastating Ultra Combo. The Ultra combo’s are among the best moves in the game, not only in terms of damage but also in presentation. When triggered, the action will freeze and the camera will pan around to a 3D view of the two combatants. This not only adds a great deal of drama to their use, but also gives the game its chance to show off those great character models and facial expressions.
My favorite new addition to the gameplay of SFIV is the Focus Attack. This incredibly flexible move is triggered by pressing the medium punch and kick buttons at the same time. You can hold the buttons to charge the move to three levels of power. While the move can be used as a standalone attack, you’ll find its usefulness has much more depth than that. If you hold back while charging the FA, your character will block one attack (provided it’s not an “armor breaking” attack such as Sagat’s Tiger Knee or Ryu/Ken’s Tatsumaki Senpukyaku) while still maintaining the charge. This allows you to instantly counter with your Focus Attack, which crumples the opponent allowing you to land another Special move or combo. The FA can also be used as a cancel, allowing you to chain together special moves and attacks into more powerful combos. This flexibility makes the Focus Attack one of the most important moves to master to successfully compete on the higher levels; however its relative simplicity allows new players to use it as well.
SFIV also features some really great presentation values. Pre-match taunts are very well done, and the aforementioned 3D flourishes look fantastic. Each characters storyline features a “Rival fight”, which has a short in-game interchange between the two characters. The dialogue in these fluctuates, but is mostly quite good. However, when paired with the great animation and facial expressions, the sequences allow the game to say a lot without saying a word.
Unfortunately, the quality of the game engine sequences only serves to make the anime intros and endings for the characters look lackluster. These cut-scenes range from cheesy but good to laughably bad. The genre isn’t known for great endings, and some of them are a step up from past games, but to have such a wonderful looking engine and not use it for the cut-scenes is an unfortunate decision.
The difficulty in SFIV scales quite nicely, both from fight to fight in arcade mode and depending on the level you choose to play on. The exception to this rule is the final boss, Seth. Fighting games almost always feature an unusually difficult boss battle, and SFIV is no exception. Seth is absurdly easy on the easiest difficulty level, but step it up to Normal and you’ll be treated with a very difficult fight. Seth’s AI will automatically tell him to Dragon Punch you when you jump, to throw Sonic Booms when you’re across the screen, and to grab you anytime you get remotely close. Couple this with the fact that his attacks have a very high priority, and your first couple fights against him can be very frustrating. He requires a much different strategy than the other fighters in the game, but once you figure out his patterns he’s certainly beatable.
No Street Fighter game would be complete without great music, and I’m pleased to report that SFIV does not disappoint. The new tracks for the game are really great, and during the Rival Fights you’ll be treated to remixed versions of classic SF tunes. The voiceovers are mostly good too, and as an added bonus once you beat the game once on arcade mode you’ll be given the option to switch individual characters to either their Japanese or English voiceovers.
While the game features the standard Arcade mode, you’ll also find a lot of other great stuff to do. There’s a deep challenge option, which features tiered Time Attack and Survival modes. Challenge also features a trial mode which teaches you how to do the various special moves and combo’s you’ll need to be successful. The game features online 1 vs. 1 multiplayer, with the added option of being able to turn on Ranked or Player match fight requests during your trip through arcade mode. This is a great feature that really brings back great memories of the arcade. The online multiplayer is butter smooth as long as your connection is up to par, and a convenient “cell-phone style” indicator of your connection to the other player before the fight begins.
Overall, I can’t recommend Street Fighter IV enough. This game deserves a place on everyone’s shelf, from the most casual fan of fighting games to the most hardcore. No matter your personal skill level, you owe it to yourself to buy this game. SFIV’s incredible art style, rock solid gameplay, and infinitely compelling multiplayer make it stand out as one of best games of this generation.